Digital History Education

Making Sense of Raw Materials

The driving question for my project comes from one Lévesque’s five essential questions about practicing history:  “How do we make sense of the raw materials of the past?” (37).

I am accessing the British Museum’s vast collection of digitized resources available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license in order to build a “history mystery” project around the Vale of York hoard.  My plan is to develop a small archive of items in Omeka for students to explore as “virtual interns” for a museum.  Students will note the individual aspects of their assigned piece, recording its distinct features and comparing it to other objects in the collection in order write a description of the item and to draw out possible theories for how the collection came together.

Once they’ve done the exploration, I will direct students to the British Museum site where they can round out the background of their specific piece, writing an exhibit tag and short description.  Each student will be able to use Maker technology to create a full size model of their item using the Glow Forge 3D laser printer. Students can use the replicated hoard as an instructional aid for teaching younger students about the Vikings.  It will also serve as vehicle for discussing the liberties and limits of digital technology in history. While one can take in so much of the world through digitized images or computer generated replicas, nothing can ever really replace the artifact itself.

I will also employ Story Maps to help students create a digital exhibit that they can share with younger students or their parents.  This vehicle will allow students to present their learning in a non-traditional format that allows for a greater narrative voice in historical writing.  It will also capitalize on digital mapping technology to help students explain how geography played a role in how the objects likely came together in England from places as far away as Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.

The digital environment gives me access to materials and multiple tools for students to engage with the historical narrative on tacticle, digital, and spatial levels.


Lévesque, Stéphane. Thinking Historically. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.

Digitally Defying the Politics of Pedagogy

In Texas, public school history teachers have been woefully constrained by the elected officials on State Board of Education who tend to flout political ideology over educational credentials during the election cycle.  As a result, curriculum standards and textbook requirements are set by a governing body with very little understanding of the current research or pedagogical philosophy at the root of a robust history curriculum.

As a former public school teacher, I feel for my colleagues who are still slogging it out in the trenches trying to cover as much as they can before the standardized STAAR tests each year.  These tests tend to focus on covering facts, and in this case, a set of highly politicized ones. I do agree that “covering” history in middle school and high school is important.  Having a framework in which to place current events in light of the past cannot happen without some level of coverage.

Dallas Independent School Students were confronted with that very scenario this year – placing current events into a framework of the past.  Recently, the DISD board voted to rename four schools named after Civil War generals, and two of those schools are only a mile or two from my house.  I am mindful of the ways in which neighborhood students will be asked contextualize the renaming of their own elementary school since their state mandated textbook celebrates the contributions of Stonewall Jackson’s leadership.  In only applying the state’s standards, they will do that work lacking the skills to wrestle with Lévesque’s essential questions that invite students to confront “what changed and what stayed the same” or how to “understand predecessors who had different moral frameworks” (37).

But, the digital turn gives me hope in applying a different standard: “To support the teaching of the essential knowledge and skills, the use of a variety of rich primary and secondary source material such as biographies, autobiographies, novels, speeches, letters, poetry, songs, and artworks is encouraged. Motivating resources are available from museums, art galleries, and historical sites.”

Good teachers, the classroom experts, who teach day in and day out now have access to hundreds of different websites promoting museums, biographies and National Park sites about the general.  Teachers could design a lesson that compares and contrasts how Jackson is portrayed at a variety of different sites and ask students to wrestle with the question of how to view Jackson in light of his “different moral framework.”

Of course, not all lessons need be so politically charged.  Opportunities abound for teachers to pull in resources from across the globe that help them to do the good work of teaching critical historical thinking skills and to consider their textbook as only one source among many.


Lendol Calder, “Uncoverage: Toward a Signature Pedagogy for the History Survey,” The Journal of American History, volume 92, no. 4 (March 2006), pp. 1358-1369.

Lévesque, Stéphane. Thinking Historically. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.


Uncovering a Hoard in History

Several years ago, the BBC produced a series called A History of the World in 100 Objects based on a collection of items housed at the British Musuem.  One of the items highlighted is a thousand year old Viking hoard that had been recently discovered by two amateur detectorists in England near York.  The Vale of York Hoard, as it now known, was a history mystery, and it stood out to me as something that might hook my students in developing their historical thinking skills.

As a new discovery, the artifact had no narrative, and it was up to scientists and historians to uncover a possible narrative for the hoard based on critically thinking about the evidence contained in the hoard.  First of all, what is it?  How could one understand what the artifact was since it didn’t come with a museum tag.  What did it contain?  How could sourcing the contents reveal it object’s purpose or significance?  How did all these items come together? Are they similar or different?  What technology might be involved that brought these diverse objects together?  To whom did these objects belong?  What might their lives have been like? And, finally, why was it buried?  Who might have done so?


Over the years, I have tried to incorporate these skills into my classroom by coming up with a very rudimentary “hoard” simulation.  It’s a fun story, but I am not sure that my students have really fully understood the point of the lesson.  While it’s clearly evident to me that historians had to figure all this out, the lesson was rushed, and frankly, a little incomplete using paper coin replicas.  I’m not sure that I gave students an opportunity to cross the threshold by making my thinking visible to them.

My idea is to build a small archive using items from the hoard made available by the British Museum using a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.  Then I would create a PBL (Project Based Learning) unit around the items in the archive.  Drawing upon the concept of being a “virtual intern,” students might each be assigned an object and investigate the item by asking some of the historical thinking questions listed above.  I can pull from this archive to create scaffolded resources in Scalar, Omeka, or some other forum, that will guide each student on the journey.  Pulling from the idea of the importance of narrative, students might each write a short piece imagining to whom each individual object might have belonged.  Finally, students could work in small groups to examine individual findings and work to develop a larger narrative about how the object came together.  Perhaps there could be a history prize for the group whose best demonstrates historical thinking skills or one for the narrative that comes closest to that developed by the British Museum.

One pitfall that I see is that clever students might “Google” the name of the coin and accidentally (or on purpose) stumble on to the real story of the Vale of York hoard, thereby ruining the game.  However, it’s something that I’m willing to take the risk of trying in order to help my students that the written history they read in textbooks has to be uncovered by real historians using the skills of historical thinking.

Thinking about Historical Thinking in the K-12 Classroom

The readings this week have been valuable and thought provoking for me professionally as a teacher in an independent school.  Being part of this type of learning community allows teachers a greater degree of academic freedom in how and what we teach.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  As we explore the process of updating our curriculum, I am struck by the ways in which Wineburg, Lévesque and Calder speak directly to the process of how history education looks currently and might look like for our school long term.

I would like to explore the tension between coverage and uncoverage.  Calder is teaching a survey course at the college level in which students are asked to write their own narratives of American history. That presupposes that students have been exposed to coverage in the past that allows them to construct these narratives.  At some point, students do need to have an understanding of the historical narrative in broad brush strokes so that they may “uncover” history by contextualizing information.  How do schools teach historical thinking skills and help students to practice uncovering history while still providing enough coverage to satisfy the need to have a basic understanding of an overarching historical narrative?  How do we as teachers decide what is important to cover?

Secondly, Lévesque cites the work of Bruner who notes that “‘intellectual activity anywhere is the same . . . whether at the frontier of knowledge or in a third grade classroom . . . [noting] that [t]he difference is in degree, not in kind” (11).  To what degree should students be exploring historical thinking in third grade?  Developmentally, what does that look like, and what strategies should teachers be using at this level in order to scaffold skills that will help them uncover history down the line?  Even at the earliest ages, teachers can train students to practice historical thinking skills using techniques and practices highlighted in Project Zero’s Thinking Palette. Metacognitive strategies such as KWL charts also are effective from early ages and, in many ways, bear a striking resemblance to the process Alston used in his assessment of Lincoln’s speeches. What are other strategies and ideas that could also work from 3rd through 8th grade.

Finally, I am curious about the role of narrative in expressing historical understanding. Lévesque differentiates writing about the past in recording a chronicle of the past from constructing a narrative about the past.  Lévesque notes that narrative formulation seems to be more intuitive for students because of its familiarity to them “in the classroom and outside (e.g. novels, cartoons, films, textbooks, and family stories” (136).  I have seen student success in my own classroom in this regard when students adapt their oral history research papers into narrative scripts for their documentaries. Even students who struggle as writers and critical thinkers seem to “cross the threshold” in new ways when engaging in this style of writing.  It actually gives me some pause in thinking about other activities I do earlier in the year.  For example, I ask them to write a one paragraph historic analysis of a work of Renaissance art in much the same way they would do a literary analysis of a work of literature.  Some students are successful, and others struggle.  It gives me pause to rethink how I might be overlooking success in one area by not applying it to another.  In thinking about my project, I wonder how using evidence to write a narrative story (while still citing evidence) about how an object might have come into existence might be more effective than writing a research paper or analysis of the object itself.


Mills brings up a good point about Making, Mining, Marking and Mashing being essential elements of the history classroom in 2023.  I would daresay that they are critical elements in any classroom in 2018.  When our school first went 1:1 with iPads seven years ago, we overwhelmed ourselves with apps that were each designed to do one specific job.  What we discovered was that students were experts in adapting elements from a few key apps and using them in completely unexpected ways.  Notability became an novice artist’s best friend as it allowed students to trace over an image to create a custom coat of arms.  The digital story telling app Puppet Pal’s was used as an image editing tool.  When we gave students the resources, they were often much more creative than if I had provided a structured “how to” for them.

Similarly, in defining learning outcomes by insisting on something written as a work product, I may be limiting what students can envision as a learning outcome.  Giving students the tools to demonstrate their knowledge in a maker space might give them a more authentic and successful opportunity to demonstrate their learning while allowing them to practice a real world skill that might someday be useful outside the context of the history classroom.

And, for some students, they might decided that doing something with history is exciting in the same way that dropping Mentos into a bottle of Diet Coke is always a treat to watch in the science lab, inspiring some budding chemist or future doctor.  What if giving a student the opportunity to MAKE in history lab led her to investigate being a curator, an archaeologist or historian using digital tools to mine new ways to understand the past?


Lendol Calder, “Uncoverage: Toward a Signature Pedagogy for the History Survey,” The Journal of American History, volume 92, no. 4 (March 2006), pp. 1358-1369.

Lévesque, Stéphane. Thinking Historically. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.

Kelly, Mills. “The History Curriculum in 2023.” edwired (blog). January 2013.

Wineburg, Sam. “Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.” The Phi Delta Kappan 80, no. 7. March 1999. p. 488-499.

Introduction to Digital History in Education

I am @thehistoryhead and my name is Kathy Carroll.  I have been teaching both English and history at the middle and high school level in a variety of public and independent schools in Dallas, Texas, since 1993.  I hold a Master of Humanities from the University of Dallas.



Currently, I teach at St. John’s Episcopal School and serve as social studies vertical team chair.  Along with my colleague, Tom Parr, I use the creative and connective power of digital technology to help students to become historians themselves through the medium of documentary film.  Students spend a year collecting an original oral history as well as additional primary source materials in order to research, script, edit and produce a short documentary film shown at the St. John’s Documentary Film Festival.  In fact, today is the final day of presentations for students who have been working on individual projects throughout the year.

Through my coursework in Digital Public Humanities at George Mason University, I have developed a digital archive and exhibit space that will eventually house the entire collection of films and provide guidance for other educators who want to embark on a similar project with their own students.

I am also a contributor to two digital history education collaborations developed in association with RRCHNM at George Mason.  Working on the first project in 2015-16 helped me to understand the transformative power of teaching history in the digital age.  This summer I will travel to France on a second project to develop curricular materials inspired by the lives of two World War I veterans.  One died two weeks before the war’s end and is memorialized at the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery in France; the other went on to live a full life as an actor in films of cultural significance and is buried at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery.

My learning goals for this course are to continue to hone my critical understanding of best practices and tools of historical pedagogy in the digital age, especially how secondary history education needs to adapt to meet changing digital scholarship opportunities in the 21st century.  In many ways, I think that progressive thinking about reinventing education coming out of places like the New Tech Network and the Buck Institute has a great deal to offer the field of digital humanities.

My ultimate professional goal is to remain in education as a teacher equipped with the digital and pedagogical skills necessary to guide students on journeys that develop historical thinking skills.  My goal is to provide opportunities for students to practice those skills using digital tools to explore and analyze primary source information.  I would also enjoy the opportunity to work more directly in developing digital education projects using primary source content for a museum or other cultural institution.